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Controversy Flares Over Site for Statue of Zimbabwe Liberation Figure Nkomo

Joshua Nkomo's family and former liberation comrades say putting his statue at the Karigamombe Center - the Shona phrase means 'he who fells the bull by its horns,' - is insulting because the symbol of his ZAPU party was a bull

The family of the late Zimbabwean Vice President Joshua Nkomo and ZANU-PF are at loggerheads over a proposal to raise a statue of the national liberation leader at a colonial-era building in central Harare.

The politburo of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF told the Harare City Council to erect the Nkomo statue at the Karigamombe Center, a pre-liberation structure previously called the Piccadilly Building.

But Nkomo’s first daughter Thandiwe Nkomo-Ebrahim told the Newsday daily newspaper that the family is unhappy with the location. The Nkomo family and members of the Zimbabwe African People's Union or ZAPU party Nkomo led until its merger with ZANU in 1987, forming ZANU-PF, say putting the statue at Karigamombe, a Shona phrase that means "he who fells the bull by its horns," is insulting because the bull was ZAPU's symbol.

Critics say that is a thinly veiled reference to ZANU's domination of ZAPU following the so-called Gukurahundi internal conflict of the 1980s in which ZAPU and ZANU elements battled each other after black majority rule was established in 1980 and colonial Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zimbabwe.

Nkomo loyalists say it is additionally insulting that the statue was made in North Korea, which trained the infamous Five Brigade which rampaged through Matabeleland in the 1980s as the Gukurahundi - "the early rain which washes away the chaff before the spring rains" - unfolded and thousands of civilians were massacred.

Meanwhile, the building's owner, the Mining Industry Pension Fund, has taken the city council to court to oppose the taking of the space for the statue, saying it had planned to build a food court on the location.

Spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change headed by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu his party was never consulted about the statue or its location.

ZANU-PF politburo member Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, a former minister of information, declined to comment.

ZAPU Chairman Dumiso Dabengwa, a former close aide to Nkomo as intelligence chief of the ZIPRA armed wing of ZAPU, said he did not know where the idea of putting up the statue of Nkomo came from.

Observers said the controversy shows that the rivalries and tensions between ZANU and ZAPU did not end with the signature of the 1987 unity accord that ended the Gukurahundi fighting. Recent years have seen a revival of ZAPU with numerous defections from ZANU-PF and an upsurge in regional aspirations within Matabeleland.

So it did not take much to spark angry exchanges over an unfortunate municipal siting decision.

For perspective on the ZANU-ZAPU war of words, VOA reporter Patience Rusere turned to Gordon Chavhunduka, former vice chancellor of the university of Zimbabwe and president of the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association, and Thamsaqa Zhou, secretary of the ZAPU branch in the United Kingdom.

Chavhunduka said the word “Karigamombe” evokes President Mugabe’s triumph over Nkomo in the 1980s. Zhou said the proposed location opened many old wounds among former ZAPU members.